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The Kids Are Still All Right at Cannes

Picture of Rubing Emily Liang
Updated: 13 June 2017
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is the latest inspired drama about children to draw festival raves. New films from Philippe Garrel and 91-year-old Claude Lanzmann also catch the eye.

Security remains tight on the Croisette following Monday’s terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. On May 23, a statement issued by the Cannes authorities invited all festival-goers to show their solidarity with the people of Manchester and the rest of Britain by observing a minute’s silence.

Cannes had its own scare. Before the 7.30pm screening of Michel Hazanavicius’s Redoubtable on May 20, a suspicious bag was found in the Debussy Theater. The issue was dealt with calmly and quickly, but nobody was admitted until almost 8pm.

Louise Chevillote (left) and Esther Garrel in Lover for a Day
Louise Chevillote (left) and Esther Garrel in Lover for a Day | © SBS Distribution

The evening press screening for the competition films have the longest lines, so a film in Directors’ Fortnight is always a good choice. Started in 1969 by the French Directors Guild, this section of the festival runs parallel to the main competition.

Philippe Garrel chose to premiere his latest film, Lover for a Day, in Directors’ Fortnight, where he first showed In the Shadow of Women in 2015. The two movies comprise, along with Jealousy (2013), the veteran auteur’s elegant black and white trilogy about the complexities of love.

In Lover for a Day, Esther Garrel, the director’s daughter, stars as Jeanne, a 23-year-old Parisienne newly evicted by her boyfriend. When Jeanne goes to stay with her father, Gilles, (Eric Caravaca), a philosophy professor, she finds he is living with a woman her own age. The free-spirited Ariane (Louise Chevillotte) is one of her dad’s students.

Typically for Garrel, it’s unwise to judge the characters in Lover for a Day by conventional moral standards. Romantic and sexual relationships have many possibilities in his work. Each character is wholeheartedly in love, as long as love lasts; it’s a precious experience, however fleeting.

Cannes 2017 has been memorable for the Garrel family. Esther’s older brother Louis (frequently an actor in his father’s films) is Hazanavicius’s star in Redoubtable, which The Player director adapted from the memoir by the actress Anne Wiazemsky (played by Stacy Martin) about her marriage to Jean-Luc Godard.

Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin in Redoubtable
Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin in Redoubtable | © StudioCanal

One of Cannes’ most popular films this year is Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Having shot his lovely, scrappy L.A. story Tangerine (2015) with iPhones, Baker got to shoot The Florida Project in widescreen 35mm. The result is another visually stunning tale of female friendship among underclass people living on the margins of society.

Like the Cannes films Wonderstruck and Loveless, it’s a story of children born without advantages. Astonishing newcomer Brooklynn Prince plays Moonee, a precocious six-year-old living in a cheap Orlando motel with her brash but loving single mom Halley (Bria Vinaite), who sells wholesale perfumes to tourists and sometimes works as a stripper to pay the rent. Many have likened The Florida Project to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, which won the Cannes Jury Prize last year.

The Florida Project
The Florida Project | © Cre Films

Disneyworld provides an ironic backdrop to Moonee’s summer adventures as she hangs out and creates mischief with her best friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto); sometimes joined by Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky (Aiden Malik), they form a modern version of the Little Rascals, the tykes in Hal Roach’s Our Gang films (1922–44). Willem Dafoe excels as the good-natured motel manager who keeps a watchful eye on Moonee.

The relationship between Moonee and Jancey is a real heart-melter. If Halley’s struggles to put meals on the table threaten a bleak ending, The Florida Project itself is a triumph.

Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah (1985), brought another Holocaust documentary, The Last of the Unjust, to Cannes in 2013. He has returned this year with Napalm, which is playing as an Official Selection, but out of competition.

On the pretence of making a film about taekwondo, Lanzmann got permission to shoot in North Korea. His purpose, however, was to recall the brief, passionate romance he had with a North Korean nurse when he first visited Pyongyang in 1958.

Claude Lanzmann in his documentary Napalm
Claude Lanzmann in his documentary Napalm | © Paname Distribution

Lanzmann, who shot Napalm surreptitiously with a digital camera, is on screen for most of the film. He traces how Pyongyang has changed since 1958, but his main focus is how he met the nurse and how they fell for each other.

He went back to Pyongyang with no intention of looking for her. He says, with a tear in his eye, that he didn’t want to see a beauty “devastated” by time. There is more than a hint of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) in the 91-year-old Lanzmann’s reminiscences, filtered as they are through the mists of time.